Social media is a big part of any successful small business marketing program. But if you’re not already familiar with it, how do you get started? Here we’ve broken down a typical social media program into a handful of easy-to-understand elements.
(If you need a quick primer on social media before you get started, read So A 12-Year-Old Knows More About Social Media Than You Do?)
First though, you need to understand that like any other part of your small business marketing, your social media program will take:
In other words, don’t start today and expect results tomorrow. More importantly, don’t make a few posts over a week and expect the orders to flow in. Social media is a strategic effort for your business that will take time and dedicated effort to show results.
You’ll be integrating social media into your marketing because of its ability to reach new prospects, to gain fans for your business, and to convert prospects and fans into customers.
It’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint.
Social Media Philosophy in Small Business Marketing
Before we get into how we’ll integrate social media with the rest of your marketing program, it’s important to grasp the philosophy of the beast. It’ll help you understand how social media differs from other types of marketing you may be familiar with.
Social media is both very content-hungry and very interactive. Quite frankly, both can become quite a demand on resources. It can be just plain burdensome when you’re trying to run a business. Luckily there is an array of tools to help. We’ll discuss those later in the post.
Perhaps you’ve found out with your blog: the more good blogs you post, the more good blogs your readers expect. The same is true with social media, as your readers realize that your content is good, they’ll come to expect it, both in quantity and in quality.
And somewhat obviously, the more people who read your posts and interact with your business, the better. It’s a good problem to have.
“Selling” is a bit different on social media as well. To be effective, your social media posts have to be a blend of topical subjects of interest to your prospects and ‘branded’ posts that actively promote your product or service. That mix should be about 80%/20%; that is, 4 out of 5 posts should inform instead of sell.
And that’s what makes our first topic, curation, so important.
A surprisingly small amount has been written about content curation: the process of sourcing interesting, relevant, and current information to support your posts. With a little math you’ll get why it’s so important. Say you’ve decided you’ll tweet four times a day, five days a week. Just considering a week’s content, you’ll need to curate sixteen pieces each week.
As it’s hard to effectively automate the process (despite what some firms may claim), you’ll spend almost as much time curating content as you will assembling the posts themselves. It will be time well-spent.
Curating good sources
The first step in curation is identifying sources to curate from. Your sources should meet the following criteria:
- They are authoritative
- They are relevant
- They are current
When you are posting for your business is not the time to tell folks where you ate last night or what you did on vacation.
When you think about what kind of content you should curate, think of words like interesting, newsworthy, and informative to describe it. Along the way, you’ll be keeping up to date on your industry. That’s just an extra bonus.
The topics you choose must be of interest to prospects, and if they happen to somehow validate or show the need for your products/services, well so much the better—hey that’s what small business marketing is all about!
Make sure the content you curate is current. Search engines push dated content way, way down in search results. And, of course, something that’s news to readers has a much greater chance of earning interaction.
A warning about curating content: watch out for controversial subjects or pieces that are predominantly opinion. After all, by reposting content, your business is in effect endorsing it.
How to manage curation
To ensure your process doesn’t miss something newsy, it’s best to curate content weekly at a minimum. Once you’ve identified some good reputable sources, curation involves selecting and storing information about good pieces.
The easiest way to do this is to use an aggregator like Feedly or the similar feature in Hootsuite, an application we’ll discuss in more detail later. Aggregators take content from numerous sources and put it into a single feed for you to review. Feedly, in particular, makes it easy to save articles of interest from the feed for review later.
For each piece you want to record some basic information:
- The name of the publication
- The title of the piece
- A link to the piece
- The date of publication
We’ve found it easy to use Excel to track curated content and use the conditional formatting feature to flag us as content ages. Should your social media program become more sophisticated at some point, Excel lets you easily manage multiple campaigns on separate tabs.
Of course, there are more involved (and expensive) approaches like content management systems. You could always look at something like that once your social media campaign becomes wildly successful.
Before we get into actually generating the content to support social media in your small business marketing, there’s an important and complex strategic decision to be made: whether you’ll make a single set of posts, or more than one.
If you’re at all familiar with popular social media networks, you know that Twitter is quite different in that it imposes a strict limit of 140 characters to its posts. Other networks like Facebook and LinkedIn impose no practical limits.
This leaves you with the choice of creating a single set of social media posts suitable for any network and having to limit each to the short length, or maintaining two sets of post content, one for Twitter and one for the other networks. There are a number of other considerations to the decision as well.
‘Personalities’ of different networks
For lack of a more accurate term, social networks each have different “personalities”. Because of this, some businesses choose to focus their efforts on certain social media networks and not on others: Facebook is the most casual network and tends to find favor with businesses trying to reach consumers; in contrast, LinkedIn is the more serious and business-focused, often a choice for B2B marketing.
Different yet are visually oriented social networks like Pinterest and Instagram, popular with businesses like restaurants, boutiques, and galleries.
Although beyond the scope of this post, there is also a big difference in reach between the networks, at least from an organic standpoint. Reach is how many people are going to see your content; organic reach is how many people will see it if you don’t pay to promote it.
And, as social networks continue to seek ways to profit, organic reach is changing fast. Today, in our opinion, Facebook offers almost zero organic reach, LinkedIn a small amount, and Twitter offers the best. Still, posts on Facebook and LinkedIn do offer SEO value, even though their reach is negligible.
Demand for content
Another key difference between the networks is how often you should post. Although there are no rules, certainly Twitter audiences expect posts multiple times daily, while posts to other networks might go twice or three times weekly to twice monthly.
[Remember, part of the value of social media is its SEO value. You’ll want to post at least frequently enough so that search engines recognize the content as current. Businesses that are successful in dominating the first page of search results for their chosen keyword/phrase rely on social media posts to take up some of those positions.]
Text preceded by the “#” character is called a hashtag. They are absolutely critical to Twitter and are also supported in Instagram. However, they perform no function in other networks (Facebook does recognize them, but doesn’t really do anything with them) and may confuse readers who are not familiar with Twitter.
We are divided on the negative effect of including hashtags on, for example, LinkedIn posts versus the cost/time savings of using a single batch of posts and have seen no published data one way or the other.
Your social media content strategy has to balance the resources devoted to it with the business benefit it gives your small business marketing program. A jewelry store will have a different set of considerations than a business consultancy.
Even though you may be writing a Twitter post and feel quite handicapped by a 140 character limitation, there’s little excuse for poor writing. Your social media content must be as well-written as any other. You are trying to drive a desired action from the prospect.
The prospect has very little invested in scanning their screen; if your content isn’t engaging, they’re gone in a fraction of a second.
Try hard to stay “on brand” when writing your branded posts. Even in social media, you are trying for a bit of “mind share”, a link in the prospect’s mind between your offering, your brand, and their need. Follow your brand and style sheet religiously.
Media and links
We’ll say it now: all of your posts should have both a link and media attached, period. This seems like a no-brainer, but you don’t have to look far to find posts that are missing one or the other.
As far as attaching media, it’s simple: posts with media attached are two and a half times more likely to earn social media interaction than posts without. A few quick points about the media you choose:
- Must be relevant—ideally should answer the question “why should I click on that?”
- Right size and resolution—an image that’s half clipped off won’t do much for you
- Legal to use—there are plenty of images available free, even for commercial use
Your post also has to have a link. It can link either to curated content (again, about 80% of the time) or to a page on your site (blog, landing page, etc.). Don’t waste valuable characters by pasting the full link into the post, use a link shortening application like Bitly. Always place the link at the end of the post. And, if you can, specify that the link should open in a new window.
Folks, the link is huge! When the reader looks at your post and finds value in it, you want them to be able to take some action, and it’s the link that lets them do that.
The link is like handing your prospect the pen in the old days: you’re moving them further down the funnel that turns them into a customer.
Actually posting the content onto social networks is the easy part, sort of. You could, of course, manually post to each network at times you choose. That approach could easily turn your small business marketing into a full time job. Luckily there are many tools that offer varying levels of automation.
When to post
For a business that serves other local businesses, you may wish to only post during the business week and during business hours. If you run a restaurant or nightclub, you’ll want to post when those prospects are looking. Businesses that serve an international clientele may find the need to post literally around the clock.
Frankly, if you’re doing the right kind of small business marketing, you already have this information as part of a customer persona.
How to post
Other than for your interactions, you’ll want to use automation to post whenever possible. Both Hootsuite (link previously provided) and Buffer are common scheduling applications that let you schedule posts to multiple networks for specific times.
Both applications have free and paid levels of service. The paid versions offer support for more social networks and for bulk schedule upload via a “.CSV” file you create in Excel. Initially you can get by with the free versions and upgrade later.
Remember, consider the geography you serve and your customer personas in deciding when to schedule posts.
The true beauty of social media, and why it’s so important to your small business marketing, is its interactive nature. Prospects can endorse your content, they can share it with their followers, they can comment on it, and they can directly send your business a message. These are all types of interaction.
Some networks have more ways to interact with content than others, but almost all interactions are good for your business. That brings us to acknowledgment, your business taking the time to affirm that a prospect has interacted with your post, or to respond to a message a prospect has sent.
It’s critical that your business take the time for acknowledgments. It can be the beginning of an important business relationship and on many social networks, those messages of thanks are themselves interacted with.
(There are automated tools for acknowledgments as well.)
Like every small business marketing initiative, you need to periodically review your social media program and make changes where warranted. Luckily most social networks offer excellent analytics to help you see what worked and what did not. In fact, you’ll find so much data that you might wonder where to focus.
We do have some simple recommendations, starting with: do not be tempted to focus on just one metric. You will often hear bragging about the number of followers, likes, “+1’s” and so on. Ignore it because the numbers mean nothing without context; more succinctly, your goal is to drive prospects through the social media funnel (we’ll explain that next).
Second, look at your social media campaigns much like the traditional lead funnel. At the top of the funnel are impressions (or views) of your content. The next step toward conversion is a like or favorite. Further down the funnel is the retweet or share. The further down the funnel you get, the greater the value of the interaction and the greater the likelihood of the prospect becoming a customer.
Third, don’t forget to look at which types of content do better than others and which posting times get the best engagement.
Last, make single changes to your campaign at a time, that way you’ll know which adjustments had the greatest effect.
We’ve likely incurred the wrath of Google for an undeniably long post. But social media is a big subject and can be an important part of your small business marketing. We wanted to give it its due.
Take our guidance, do some research on your own, then put social media into your small business marketing mix. Your competitors probably already have.